DENVER • If the world were ending, what would you want to wear?
This question didn’t feel so hypothetical in March 2020, when the pandemic upended our daily realities and how we dressed for them.
With more time spent at home and out of sight of others, sweatpants took the place of workwear and comfort took precedence over appearance. Clothing sales plummeted, leading big companies such as J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers and J.C. Penney to file for bankruptcy.
Twenty months later, the world according to COVID-19 is still a new normal. And it’s inviting its own wardrobe trends, whether that’s embracing the “work from home” aesthetic outside the house or taking self-expression up a notch to celebrate being out of the house.
Chelsea Drew, who runs the Colorado Springs-based thrifting company Hause Collective, said the pandemic has pushed people to “really think about what’s important to them.” And that includes what they wear.
“I think there was an overall feeling that our time here may be limited,” she said. “So when you step out, you want to step out of the box to express yourself even more. I think the pandemic has allowed people to say what they want to stand out from the crowd even more.”
That might mean trying out different styles. That also might mean considering the message behind your clothes.
Drew and Tristan Bego, a thrifting stylist based in Denver, say their businesses have grown since the pandemic began, as customers sought out more sustainable and creative clothing.
Recycled or repurposed clothing is one leading trend in response to the pandemic, as displayed during Denver Fashion Week’s first-ever show putting sustainability in the spotlight.
The November event showcased fashion from Colorado-based vintage vendors, thrifters and designers.
One featured Denver designer Natalie Koenig, who used her quarantine downtime to teach herself how to sew and launch her clothing brand. As she made clothes expressing her unique style, she realized how it was helping her learn more about herself.
“That’s why one of my purposes with what I make is to inspire people to heal themselves and get to know themselves,” she said. “I think that’s the only way that true peace comes.”
Her brand, called Meraki and Nat, took off.
The show, serving as an exciting example of thrifting’s possibilities and place in high fashion.
Drew, who dressed models in gender-bending outfits, said she wanted to show off how fashion can send a bigger signal about inclusivity.
“I don’t think we feel as restricted anymore,” she said. “We are becoming more accepting of each other and what we wear. I’ve seen people walking their dogs in all kinds of outfits.”
It also served as a celebration of being seen and being social again.
Annabel Bowlen — daughter of Pat Bowlen, who was the majority owner of the Denver Broncos prior to his passing in 2019 — was one attendee of Denver Fashion Week. She said the pandemic has pushed clothing trends in a direction that Coloradans have often worn with pride.
“In Colorado, we’ve always prioritized comfy and cool and chill,” she said. “After the pandemic, that actually became a style. You’re finally seeing a bunch of designers making comfy and sustainable a statement.”